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November 21, 2019

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If I'm lucky

A petunia I buy from Amherst might be from a seedling planted by the SBA administrator

By Monty Siekerman
What’s it like when the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture comes to visit a greenhouse south of Alger?

A half hour before the arrival of Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue his communications and security people enter the sprawling 4-acre greenhouse.

Soon, Hardin County Sheriff Keith Everhart and a state trooper join the crowd.

Secretary Perdue’s big RV pulls up to the door...on time, which is unusual for a high-ranking member of government. Although the Secretary has several other stops in Ohio before the day ends, he has scheduled plenty of time to talk with the owners and learn about modern greenhouse growing.

Accompanying the Secretary are his wife Mary and another high-placed federal leader, Linda McMahon, the administrator of the Small Business Administration, which looks after the wants of 30 million small businesses in America. Her job is considered Cabinet-level.

Adin and Mary Horst, the host and hostess and co-owners of Amherst Greenhouse, greet the dignitaries and show them photos of how the business grew from a mere 200 sq. ft. to 174,000 sq. ft. in only 16 years.

The Perdues, Horsts, and Administrator McMahon begin the tour followed by the contingent of communications, security people, and local media, who take plenty of video and photos.

Along the way, the dignitaries stop to learn more about mechanization, which keeps down the price of plants for customers.

Near the end of the hour-long visit, the federal officials have a time for press availability, when the Secretary answers questions from the media. And, there is a time for picture-taking of the officials with Adin and Mary Horst, their family, and employees with the distinguished visitors.

The large RV then pulls out of the driveway, headed to a speaking engagement in Lima.
It’s back to work for the greenhouse crew, customers will be at the door wanting plants before you know it.

So, why does a member of the President’s Cabinet and another Cabinet-level person want to tour a greenhouse on a rural country road (Amherst Road) in Hardin County?

There are several reasons, including: Amherst Greenhouse is a good example of free enterprise, a family-owned operation, one that installs modern agriculture equipment and technology to keep costs down and prices low. And, it’s a time when the Secretary hears about the concerns that the owners have.

The Horsts got into the business, first by growing a few plants for themselves, then realized “We can do this for others.” So, the next year their journey began growing flowers and vegetables for the public.

They explained that there was a demand for quality plants at a fair price. Unlike many large greenhouse operations who mostly wholesale, the Horsts sell 100 percent of their product retail.

Hanging baskets, flower and vegetable bedding plants, planters, even some outdoor furniture and gardening supplies are now available. Customers cart several million plants out of the store during the short Spring season into awaiting SUVs and pickups.

On opening day (April 20 this year) the parking lot will be full of cars and a long line of customers waiting for the doors to be unlocked at exactly 9 a.m.

I saw Administrator McMahan plant a few seedlings herself. Maybe, if I'm lucky, a petunia that I buy from Amherst in May will be one she poked into a pot. Just maybe.

Photo: Linda McMahon, Sheriff Keith Everhart, Sonny Perdue.